The Kangaroo, A Icon, A Pest and A National Identity

Old Skippy is never shy of a bit of publicity, he appears on our coat of arms, he had his own TV show and appears on countless other Australian products along with some that are trying to be passed off as Australian. But has our attachment to this national identity clouded our sense of reason when it comes to managing this animal?

While the kangaroo is a iconic Australian animal it can also be a major pest to farmers particularly in dry years as large numbers of kangaroos can quiet easily decimate a wheat crop and compete with stock for feed; leading to overgrazing and land degradation. This was highlighted when a military base out side of Canberra had to cull kangaroos to put a stop to the overgrazing and land degradation, however while there was a genuine environmental reason for this cull it still attracted world wide coverage and protests by mostly well meaning but ill-informed people.

I always known that there has been opposition to kangaroo culls and the kangaroo trade but I never really paid much attention to the information they were pushing with it until someone retweeted a tweet from @Boycott_Aussie. The twitter page Boycott Australia has put out over 20,500 of pure rubbish to their 40 followers (how they have that many I don’t know), including there latest example “Do you know Australia tells it’s citizens to kill every kangaroo they see because they are garbage?”. Where’d they pull that from? Activists have been know to be a bit loose with the facts but that is taking things to a whole new level in my opinion, however this group is probably the most extreme of the extreme and is reflected in their following on twitter.

However some things they claim is reflected in many other activist websites, the main claim is that they are near non-existent and on the brink of extinction; I’ll just quote The Kangaroo Protection Coalition “Many Australians who have lived in rural Australia for several years, cannot remember seeing a single kangaroo in the wild”.  Again where do they get this information from? Tabloids do a better job at fact checking. A quick drive out of town would soon put that myth to rest as it usually doesn’t take long to spot one on the side of the road. Just from my own experience last weekend when I went out pig shooting, I failed to find a single pig (plenty of signs though) but saw countless kangaroo’s resting under trees and grazing the grass (In case your wondering I only shot them with my camera). Now if we’re going use peoples personal experience of animals in the wild to assess their vulnerability lets use mine; I’ve only  ever seen 5 Koalas in the wild and its official listing is vulnerable, I’ve seen four Short Billed Echidnas which are classified as Least Concern and one Bare-Nosed Wombat is not listed on the threatened species list (accidentally set up my hoochie next to its burrow, I was left wondering what the red eyes belonged to that were staring at me as I climbed into my sleeping bag). So really a persons individual experience bares little relevance on the animals population.

So instead of devoting time and resources to a animal that is doing well for itself why aren’t these people out promoting some lesser known and lesser iconic but still critically endangered Australian species; have you ever heard of the Short-nosed Sea Snake? I hadn’t till five minutes ago, no specimens have been sited since 2000, yea I know what your thinking but that’s a snake its no where as cute as a kangaroo. Well then what about the Gilbert’s Potoroo? There’s only 40 left alive, again I had never heard of until five minutes ago. Endangered animals include the Woylie, Quoll, Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, Dibbler, Various species of bandicoot and the list goes on. Surely these lesser known but endangered animals are worth as much if not more time than the kangaroo.

While I still believe and maintain that the kangaroo is a icon of national importance and must be protected to a extent, their is still room for culling programs and harvesting to help protect the environment, crops and pastures. I also believe that the people who campaign so hard for the Kangaroo should work to direct their effort towards raising awareness and promoting the protection of other lesser known endangered Australian species. Feel free to leave your comments and opinions below as I’m keen to hear what people have to say on this issue.

You'll Step In Front Of A Truck For Me

You’ll Step In Front Of A Truck For Me

But Have You Heard Of Me?

But Have You Heard Of Me?

What Is Going On?

WARNING CONTAINS RANT

Yes that’s right I’m sorry I’m doing this, I do try and keep the blog level and free of opinion and full of facts but the media during the last couple of weeks has lead me to this. We’ve got drones in the air, rangers calling for bullet proof vests, undercover activists and glass in gumboots, honestly what the hell is going on? has the country just lost its mind?

Lets start with the drone, Animal Liberation has just spent $14,000 on a new drone to spy on farms to certify organic and free range statuses as well look for breaches of Animal Welfare so they can report them to the RSPCA. For a start I think that’s its just a complete waste of money, a grab for headlines and probably Australia’s most expensive clay pigeon. My biggest fear with them flying drones over farms and around stock is that they’ll get a lot of footage of stressed stock and use it against us, not because stock is stressed because of poor Animal Welfare but because some bright spark is dangling a drone on top of them to check for stress and AW issues, but they won’t let couple of facts won’t get in the way of a good story. Also $14,000 is a lot of money to spend on something that won’t necessarily improve anything, so wouldn’t putting it towards fixing a issue that has already been identified be a better use for the money?

Another thing that was making headlines this week was park rangers calling for bullet proof vests to issued for when the National Parks are opened for hunting. Now I believe that no matter what a persons personal view of hunting is there is no need for bullet proof vests to be issued to park rangers as it is completely irrational and nothing more than a head line grabber. Statistically shooting is a very safe sport between 1997 and 1999 16 people died in accidental shootings while in 2012 284 people drowned, yet no one wants it banned and it shouldn’t be people should be able to have the freedom to swim if they want to just as qualified people should be allowed to hunt if they so choose. I firmly believe that if parks are opened up to hunters it will benefit pest control measures already in place and will be able to be carried out without risk to park staff, visitors or other hunters.

While on the topic of hunting the activist group Coalition Against Duck Shooting or CADS sent under cover activists complete with shotguns into the wetlands this year to monitor the duck  hunting. Again is this really necessary? Isn’t this just taking things too far and where do they draw the line?

Today I read a press release from the Victorian Farmers Federation after the link was posted on twitter (http://www.vff.org.au/media_centre/detail.php?id=1502&order=0) which described how a Victorian egg producer was raided by activists which left glass from a broken bottle in a row of Gumboots. It is just simply dangerous not only to the farmer but employees and potentially the farmers children, what drives people to do that? There is no reason to try and physically harm a person just because you may disagree with what they do or how they do it, I also wonder how these groups are meant to be taken seriously if they are going to about breaking into farms and booby trapping peoples work wear.  At what point will the line be drawn? How long till someone gets hurt in one of these raids gone wrong or in a trap left by them? And on a very serious note if a activist injured themselves on one of these raids would the farmer be liable?

Again I’m sorry but I couldn’t help myself these activist are just going too far into the extreme zone, next week I go on uni break for two weeks so I’ll be back to work right in the heart of the busy picking season. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some more pictures of the pickers at work and I might even be able get inside  a cotton gin so I can show you all what happens to the cotton once it has left the field.

 

They’re A Bit Feral

Its been a while since my last post and I’m sorry about that but I’ve been fairly busy with uni work. With no farm work to write about I’m going to try and write at least one post a week focusing on farming practices and issues around farming, so this week I’m writing about feral animals.

Feral Animals have been building up in the wild since the colonisation of Australia in 1788 when the first fleet introduced 7 horses, 29 sheep, 74 pigs, 6 rabbits and 7 cattle to Australian environment. Since then goats, foxes, buffalo, donkey’s, cats and wild dogs have taken hold in the Australian environment decimating stock numbers and causing huge amounts of environmental damage, the cost is so great that the Invasive Animals CRC estimates that feral animals cost Australian’s $720 million each year. But there are some that I think do more damage than others.

Feral Animals Come In All Different Shapes And Sizes

Last weekend I went back to our family farm at North Star in Northern NSW, recent rain has left it green and full feed but it has also given the local population of pigs a place to play. Everywhere I drove there where signs of pig activity with tracks, wallows and rutted up ground littering the property. Feral pigs destroy infrastructure (fences), damage crops, spread disease, contribute to soil erosion, water purification while competing with live stock for resources. Feral pigs have even been known to prey on lambs as well as other native animals, their impact on Australia and its environment is so great that they are estimated to cost Australian’s $100 million a year.

Fortunately there is a market for feral pigs which provides an incentive for people to trap them, helping to lower their numbers and potential damage. But this isn’t always enough and other measures often need to be used such as baiting and aerial culling, baiting can be a effective and cost efficient method if carried out properly over large area with the cooperation of multiple landholders. Aerial culling has also proved to be an expensive but an effective method of controlling feral pig numbers if used in conjunction with other land holders, we have used it a couple of times on our own property and it has always yielded great results with over 200 pigs taken in a hour on our small 2000 acre farm.

The rabbit has been the blight of farmers since 1859 when Thomas Austin first released 24 rabbits into the Australian bush for sport on his Victorian property “Barwon Park”. While in hindsight his efforts to make Australia more like England is one of the worst decisions in Australia’s environmental history but at the time it seemed to be a reasonable idea as rabbits had been released into England from France with no major effects on the environment and were a popular form of sport hunting. Unfortunately Australia has a completely different environment to England causing the rabbit to have a huge destructive impact on the Australian environment.

One of The Most Famous Photos of Rabbits in Australia

Rabbits cause of wide range of damage to the environment and farms across Australia, they reduce carrying capacity on farms by competing for feed, damage crops, eat shrubs and plants reducing ground cover adding to erosion. This all cost Australian farmers over $110 million in damages and control.  Biological controls have proved to be the most effective control option for the rabbit population with Myxomatosis (1950) and the Calicivirus (1991) both having a devastating impact on rabbit populations when they were released into Australia, however after the release of Calicivirus scientists said there was a ten year window to find another biological control and finish them off once and for all, but now that window is closed and rabbit numbers are back on the rise. So other control methods  such as fumigation, baiting, shooting, trapping and warren ripping are used with varying effectiveness.

The Old Days

Wild dogs and foxes are estimated to cost Australian farmers $65 and $35 million each year in losses and control, they are a major contributor to stock losses in both sheep and cattle, they increase stress amongst the heard and have the potential to host disease. The fox was originally introduced to Australia for sport hunting and since spread right across the Australian mainland, while the feral dog is the result of interbreeding between domestic dogs and the dingo which was brought to Australia from Asia by the Aboriginal people. The impact of feral dogs can clearly be seen when cattle are brought into the yards, many are missing ears or tails and are covered in scars. The impact of foxes on lambs is just as significant, as young lambs are no match for the quick agile foxes that easily take them down. The main control methods for foxes and dogs are shooting, trapping and baiting; they each work to varying degrees of success depending on how well they are carried out. In 2011 the Victorian government committed $4 million to the establishment of a bounty on wild dogs and foxes with $100 dollars being paid for a wild dog and $10 for a fox, while it met opposition from various groups bounty’s have proved to be successful with the 2002-03 bounty turning in 198,000 foxes.

Feral Dogs on a cow carcass, taken with a remote camera

Unfortunately I don’t have the time to write about all the feral pests threatening Australian farms and the environment but I feel these are some of the main ones. Please feel free to comment, ask questions or share your own stories below. I’ll try and keep writing at least one post a week.

One of My Own Feral Encounters

One of My Own Feral Encounters

A Bit Outta Of Touch

Yesterday I received a e-mail from a animals rights group asking for signatures on a petition to ban the baiting of dingoes, while the 1080 baiting of dingoes is one of the most effective ways to control pest numbers this is not what this post is about. One of the closing lines in the e-mail stated that “There are plenty of other methods for farmers to protect their crops humanely”, which makes you wonder how in touch they are? As last time I checked dingoes were carnivores and predators (mentioned in the e-mail) which would makes them the very real threat livestock that they are and not a threat to cropping.

Their website didn’t go on to mention anything about the protection of crops or livestock from dingoes but instead just focused on why dingoes should be protected, in particular on Fraser Island and the dangers of 1080 poison, which where misleading and inaccurate. As the website handles a varying range of petitions I can not be sure of who wrote the e-mail or if it was even written by some one in Australia but I still think that if you are going to campaign a issue you should know and understand it so you avoid doing something as silly as saying that dingoes are a threat to crops.

This isn’t the first time a campaigner has shown they were greatly out of touch, late last year animal rights group and general annoyance PETA was trying to have burnt out stations in Queensland’s Gulf Country face legal action on animals welfare grounds. Not only did they not understand the sheer logistics and costs of they believed should have been in place but they killed their campaign in a heart beat when they called the station owners “Ranchers” on radio. How these organisations can hold any credibility or support is a sheer wonder to me and I’m assuming many others feel the same.

The email can be found below and as always please feel free to leave any comments or opinions below.

Dingoes are one of Australia’s top predators. But intense lobbying from farming interests has landed this ecologically critical animal on the pests and vermin list. That means, despite the rapid disappearance of pure dingoes, the species can be killed, including with 1080 poisoned bait.

1080 poison is an indiscriminate killer. While it’s been approved to kill foxes, rabbits and wild dogs, it gets into the ecosystem, killing pets, untargeted native animals and “pests” in a slow, horrific way. Worse, the suffering isn’t even necessary. There are plenty of other methods for farmers to protect their crops humanely.

Scientists have warned for years that we’re close to losing pure dingoes in the wild. Allowing them to be poisoned is only making things worse.

CSG What Its All About

The other day I watched a documentary called “Gasland” and it was frightening, it was about the extraction of shale gas in US and effects it has caused on the people and the environment.  The main concern highlighted in the the documentary was air and water contamination caused by the fracking process, because in the US at the time of filming the companies were exempt from the clean air act and clean water act, while most of the contaminated shown was dirty water some contained chemicals and some could even be set fire to as it came out of tap. While we don’t have shale gas production in Australia we do have CSG which sometimes uses the fracking process, there were also some important points that the documentary failed to mention but I’ll get to that later so lets start with what CSG is and the fracking process.

CSG Well Head

CSG Well Head

Coal Seam Gas or CSG is methane gas that is extracted from coal seams instead of sandstone where it is normally found, it makes up 27% of Australia’s gas resources, 78% of the eastern states gas resources and is set to supply 50% of the eastern states gas demand by 2030. Coal Seam Gas is pressurised by water which traps the gas in the seam so in order to extract the gas they have to remove the water first, this requires drilling of a well often between 400 and 1000 metres deep and possibly fracking it if gas flow isn’t sufficient.

CSG Map

If drilling and pumping out the water in the coal seam is not enough to get a suitable flow of gas then fracking is required to get enough flow, fracking is a process that involves forcing a mixture of water, sand and a combination chemicals down the hole so that fractures the rock around the well allowing more gas to flow into the gas well. There has been a lot of concern in regards to the chemicals used in the fracking process in particular benzene (which can cause cancer), toulene (a toxic chemical), ethyl-benzene (cancer causing) and xylene (toxic and highly flammable), fortunately these chemicals have been banned in New South Wales and Queensland but there are still many other chemicals used in the fracking process. Although fracking has only been used on eight percent of Queensland’s gas wells the use of these chemicals and the possible contamination they can cause to ground water and waterways is what has got farmers and the producer of the documentary “Gasland” concerned.

Extraction

In the documentary “Gasland” they were drilling for shale gas which always requires fracking and may need to be fracked up to eighteen times in its life unlike CSG, so its a bit different but the fracking process is similar as are the depths. As I mentioned earlier the documentary highlighted cases where ground water contaminated by sediments, chemicals and even gas to the extent where it could be ignited as it came out of the tap. But what the documentary failed to mention was that this shouldn’t happen because of the distance between the aquifers that the bore water is found in and the coal seams where the gas is found. Bores for water in CSG areas only tend to around 200 metres but in some parts of Australia they can go down to 2000 metres with the water that comes out being too hot to touch, the coal seam layers are typically found between 400 and 1000 metres, so there’s a large gap between the two meaning the any chemicals that could have entered the coal seam during fracking would take hundreds if not thousands of years to seep through to the aquifers. But in order to get to the coal seam you have to go through the aquifers, so how do they do it without damaging the aquifer?

CSG hole

In order to get to the coal seam you need to drill through the aquifers, so its important to protect the aquifer during the drilling process and during the gas extraction process. To do this they case the gas well with layers of concrete and metal piping as they drill, however it is possible that the concrete could crack and allow gas and chemicals to escape into the aquifer, this is the main theory behind the water contamination and the flammable water seen in “Gasland”. Hopefully a higher level of regulation and tougher casings will prevent these sort of incidents occurring in Australia, although gas wells have been know to leak around the head in Australia. There are also other water issues involving CSG that farmers are more concerned with.

The Casing

The Casing

Earlier I mentioned that in order to get the gas from the coal seam it needs be de-pressurised by removing the water from it, this is one of the main concerns for farmers as they need to know what will happen to the ground water level and what will happen to the removed water. The CSG industry expects that will it remove over 75 gigalitres of water a year from the Great Artesian Basin even though the basin has a annual recharge of 880 gigalitres it is spread over a large area and with a large amount of localised pumping it could take many years for the water to come across and refill it. This lack of water flowing back into the pumping area could cause the water in the aquifers above to seep down into the coal seam dropping the water table, this may not happen imminently but over a extended period of time possibly spanning generations and this is what farmers are concerned about. They want to know if the water level will still be there for their children and their children’s children.  One of the methods of achieving this is by treating and cleaning the extracted water before it is put back into the ground, this process is called re-injection. Other options for dealing with the extracted water include treating it and using it in cropping operations or town water supply.

The Great Artesian Basin

The Great Artesian Basin

Company access to farm land is another major concern facing growers, as under Australian Law the land owner owns the land all the way to the core but they don’t own the mineral and fuel resources found in that area. Those resources are owned by the state or the people, the government which is the representation of the people can then issue a mining lease to companies that mine the gas or minerals as long as royalties are paid to the government and the land holder gets compensation. If the landholder refuses the company access and refuses to negotiate with them the matter is taken to the courts and the land holder will be awarded minimal compensation for the mining activity.

CSG is a major issue facing farmers in Australia, it has the potential to do massive amounts of damage to the farming sector but it also has the potential to help out the farming sector. I believe that for the best results farmers need to work with the mining companies and the mining companies need to be proactive in working with the farmers as well as protecting the environment to ensure minimal impact to the land and water. But I also believe that legislation needs to change so land holders can refuse access to their properties.

Please comment and leave your thoughts on the issue.